Harrington plays through pain to make history at Royal Birkdale in 2008
After winning his first Claret Jug, and maiden Major title, in a dramatic play-off just 12 months before at Carnoustie, no one was more thrilled than Padraig Harrington when he became the first European to secure back-to-back wins at The Open since 1906.
Arriving at Royal Birkdale on a year-long winless streak and nursing a wrist injury that was wreaking havoc with his preparation, not many had tipped Harrington to be crowned the 2008 Champion Golfer of the Year. But, determined to defend his title, Harrington searched for positives from the dire situation he found himself in, and harnessed the mind-set that his lack of practice would keep him energised.
“In retrospect it kept me fresh ahead of four gruelling rounds to come,” Harrington concluded after the historic victory. “Royal Birkdale was in great condition, very fairly set up and together with the tough weather conditions provided an excellent stage for The 137th Open Championship.
“Aside from significantly less time on the range and the course, I kept everything else the same as the previous year. My family, Bob Rotella and Bob Torrance were all on hand to provide support and by Wednesday night I was ready to play through the pain to defend my title.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
Still 50-50 as to whether he would make it through the entire Championship, Harrington recorded a small victory when he completed the first round with a 74. On Friday his confidence lifted when he came through a difficult lie in the rough on the 11th unharmed, carding a 68, which left him only three shots off the pace.
High winds at Royal Birkdale meant that not a single player managed to post a score under par in the third round - a significant factor in Harrington’s eventual win. As it stood, no one was running away with the Championship and it meant that the Irishman, playing conservatively to protect his wrist, was still in with a shot. Harrington himself recorded a 72, which even at 2-over for the day left him tied for second place on Saturday evening.
On the final day Harrington, playing with Greg Norman, was the one breaking away. His stunning back nine, which included two birdies and an eagle, was enough to secure the Championship with a four-shot margin.
Questions had been posed about Harrington’s credentials as a multiple Major Champion – after all he had failed to win any golf tournament since his triumph at Carnoustie. And then, as if by magic, the doubt disappeared. It was now widely accepted that Harrington had shown true Champion spirit to set aside his wrist injury woes to deliver on his promise, and lift the Claret Jug high above the rest.
“In the end I think my wrist injury provided a welcome distraction to the pressures of being defending Champion,” surmised Harrington.
“From the early Thursday morning start, in some of the toughest conditions I have ever played in, to partnering Greg Norman in the final group on Sunday afternoon, my mind stayed focused on one shot at a time.
“Last year, winning for the first time was obviously very special. This year, managing to produce my very best golf on the back nine of the final round to win by four shots, was even more satisfying and certainly relatively less stressful.”